Two months ago I was talking to my mom and she mentioned her mortgage interest rate was > 5%. I asked for a copy of her statement to look into refi options. Instead, I ended up making her mortgage payment. Why? Time for a thread on mental illness & what I learned about it. 👇
My parents divorced when I was 3. Mom remarried when I was 5. She had primary custody of me. She struggled with alcoholism and was diagnosed bipolar. She picked fights w/ my stepdad and the police came to our house often.
Sometimes the fights were violent. Once she ripped the phone off the wall (yes they used to be mounted to the wall instead of carried around in our pockets) and threw it across the room at him. At one point she was committed to a mental institution for 6 weeks.
In about 3rd grade I was playing in the woods behind our house and ran into another girl my age. She became my best friend. She later told me she was scared of me in the woods that day cause all the neighbors said my mom was crazy and she thought I might be crazy too.
Once I woke up to go to school and there was a suicide note on the counter and pills everywhere. I ran upstairs and started pounding on mom’s bedroom door. She finally yelled out “I didn’t do it.” And then I had to... go to school like any other day.
My stepdad, bless him, explained to me one day that mom was ill. He said the illness made mom do these things & act this way. This one convo was a lifesaver for me. As a child I took away that my mom was not a bad person. Mom was sick. She was suffering.
Money was always tight as mom was an overspender. People with mental illness often don’t understand limits. She ran us into bankruptcy and I remember the guys coming to repossess the car, the microwave and her furniture, including her headboard.
Mom was a teacher and divorced when I started college. On a teachers salary she raised my sister and brother who are 8 and 9 years younger than me. She was always borrowing $$$ from relatives - who knew it would never be paid back.
As an adult, dealing with it didn’t necessarily get easier. You never knew what might happen. I lived far away but if I went to visit would she pick me up from the airport drunk? Would she be passed out in her room for most of the visit?
At times I felt angry, & resentful. I wanted a mom I could go shopping with, or simply have a normal phone call with where you talk about relationships or what’s going on in your life. But that wasn’t possible.
At 30 I found an incredible therapist. She helped me process these feelings and I learned it was ok to keep my distance, to protect my own mental health, and yet still choose to love my mom.
My mom did not choose to be this way. She loves us fiercely. At times she suffers from horrible guilt over things she has done and what her children have endured. I know it can be hard not to blame someone with mental illness and say “Why are they doing this to me?”
I know she would never intentionally choose some of the behaviors she has. And so, I choose to help when I can. Mom is now 72 and retired for almost 10 years. She lives on a $3k/ month pension.
Her mortgage was negotiated during the Great Recession and has a lump sum $65k balloon pmt due at the end. While her rate is high, it’s only being charged on the remainder of the balance. Refinancing was not an option for her.
On her statement I could see she was a month behind on her payments. I mailed in a check, waited for it to clear, then told her. She cried. I am grateful to be able to do this for her.
What I’ve learned is, as best we can, we need to deal with mental illness just like any other illness. With compassion. And, we have to care for our own health first. That means setting boundaries. Knowing our limits. Getting help. Talking about it.
There’s hardly anything in life that feels as good as going on this journey, going through dark times, and coming out of it with nothing but healthy love.
I say healthy love because I used to think love meant you had to put up with anything. But you don’t. You must love and protect yourself first. Then, you are free to love and help others.

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